The FINA World Water Polo Conference kicked-off today, Thursday April 26, in Budapest, Hungary, as FINA President Dr. Julio C. Maglione addressed the delegates with a welcome message, reminding the latest challenges the sport is facing. 

Underlining that the Conference is currently taking place in the water polo nation by excellence, Hungary, where the sport is so popular as demonstrated last summer at the 17th FINA World Championships, the President emphasised that in order to develop water polo at grassroots level, the sport needs to innovate. Modernising the game and engage with the youth of the world is a top priority.

After an accelerated history lecture about the latest 150 years of water polo history presented by water polo coach Yannis Giannouris (below) who reminded that the sport was initially funnily referred as football in the water, today’s discussions in Budapest started with a panel of experts in Brand, Communications and Image.

Yannis Giannouris, Water Polo Coach

FINA spoke with Olympic communications and bidding campaign specialist and consultant Terrence Burns, who insisted on the narrative water polo has to develop.

“Before talking about promotional tactics, we should go way back. I think that you have to create a strong brand narrative, a real story about water polo. You need to identify why it is important to the consumers and the fans. And then the tactics follow.”

Reminding the audience that a sport needs to define its own brand before anything else, Burns said to FINA:

“During my presentation I was really referring to the Why. You have to come up with the Why before you come up with the How. In this case, why is water polo unique? Why is it different from any other team sport? And why is that valuable to the consumer?”

After researching and gathering insights for the sports community, Burns was confident that water polo has a uniqueness to its game:

“Water polo has a uniqueness, it is a functional one. Functionally water polo is quite different. It is a three-dimensional sport to start with. You are competing against an actual field of play itself and functionally those things are interesting. You have to take these and make it an emotional valuable benefit.”

Taking the example of renowned car brands, Burns said:

“What are we trying to sell with water polo and how is it different from other sports it competes with.”

“As a brand, you have to be consistent across all markets. The key to any successful sport is to be consistent with its brand values, whether it is an Olympic or non-Olympic sport. They shouldn’t change depending on where you are in the world. Consistency is crucial. You have to sell the same emotional promise whether you are in Dubai, Santiago or Atlanta. You want to have the same message.”

Water polo’s future in the Olympic programme was also presented by FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu (below) earlier this morning. He confirmed that following meetings with top decision-makers at the International Olympic Committee, FINA agreed that 12 teams for men and 10 teams for women with 11 players per team will be the new norm at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020.

FINA Executive Director Cornel Marculescu

Coming back to the topic, Burns concluded the interview by saying that he knows what the International Olympic Committee is looking for.

“Sports have to work to be more appealing to watch. Obviously, that is what the IOC wants from all of the sports. All sports are under pressure to modernise and I think that water polo should respond proactively to this new trend. Water polo needs to change now!”

“Everybody was surprised at how well rugby seven did in the Olympics and how exciting the sport was. But I think that beach volleyball is the goal standard for how they completely changed the fans experience by focusing on the values and the palyers. These are great inspirations for water polo.”

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